Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
As of this moment, I have run 60 death inquests. Of those, I have 3 whose pending outcome is still somewhat in question. Nearly half are natural causes. (I get a lot of hospital deaths since I have the county trauma center and two other hospitals in my Precinct.) Of the remaining deaths, 20 are accidents and 9 are suicides.
It’s those nine I want to talk about today.
Nine people have chosen to end their lives by their own hand. They’ve used a variety of methods but the two most common are a self-inflicted gunshot and hanging. Some have left a note of some kind. Most have not. The majority have been between the ages of 30 and 60. Five males. Four females. All left behind a family. 6 White. 3 Black.
Reduced to statistics, they aren’t far off the state rankings for 2018. Texas has an overall rate of 13.0 suicides per 100,000 in population. The US has 13.9. The only category where we are unusual is gender. Males commit suicide about 4 times as often as females. As you can see from the numbers so far, we are nearly even.
At a rough guess, Precinct 4 has about 141,680 in population, which means roughly 18 expected deaths by suicide for the year. (Likely more, since our population is increasing and that is the 2018 population estimate.) So, if we maintain a consistent rate for 2019 we are halfway there. As this is June, we are, statistically speaking, right on target.
Yet, the numbers are only a small part of the picture. Each one of those nine was someone’s child. Nearly all were someone’s parent. They leave behind families and friends trying to understand what happened. What they missed. What could have been done to change the outcome?
Nearly half of suicides have no mental illness diagnosis. The factors that cause someone to attempt suicide are varied - relationship and financial issues, the environment, questions about sexuality and more. They are as diverse and multifaceted as the individual. What everyone can agree on is that the suicide rate in our country and in Texas is rising. It’s done so in nearly every state, nearly every year since 1999. State by state the numbers vary widely, but one alarming trend is a growing disparity between urban and rural rates, with a greater increase in rural areas.
In Williamson County, we have several resources for suicide prevention. The Williamson County Mobile Outreach team provides on-scene crisis response. They can be reached at 512-943-3545 or after hours at 512-864-8277. The Williamson County Sherriff’s Office Victim Assistance Unit has advocates who can provide support. Their number is 512-943-1300 or after hours at 512-864-8282.
The National Suicide Prevention Helpline is 800-273-8255. They provide a 24-hour crisis response. The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth, can be reached at 866-488-7386, via text by messaging START to 678678 and online via chat at www.trevorproject.org.
But crisis response doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. We need to address the issues behind the increase in suicides. The CDC has identified seven strategies to prevent suicide: strengthen economic supports, strengthen access and delivery of suicide care, create protective environments, promote connectedness, teaching coping and problem-solving skills, identify and support those at risk, lessen harms and prevent future risk.
This means things like housing stabilization through affordable housing, government subsidies and financial counseling. We need to cover mental health services in health insurance policies and reduce provider shortages in underserved areas. Reduce access to lethal means for those at risk, promote an environment where it is safe to ask for help, and community-based policies to reduce alcohol use. Community engagement activities to promote connectedness. Parenting and relationship building programs and conflict resolution programs. Crisis intervention and training. Promoting safe reporting and messaging about suicide. For more specifics, visit www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicideTechnicalPackage.pdf.
Beyond these ideas to create community support systems, which are vital, we need to address toxic masculinity and toxic individualism. Men, and indeed all of us regardless of gender, need to understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. We’ve been told fighting your own battles under all circumstances, even for children, is a sign of strength. Seeking help from – or working with – others is a sign of weakness. Those rags to riches stories, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, imply that if you aren’t one of those success stories, you’ve no one to blame but yourself. If you’re poor, you’ve not worked hard enough. If you have difficulties in school, you’re not applying yourself. Everything is the individual’s responsibility and the individual’s fault. Never society. Never what we’ve been taught to believe.
We’ve been told we all have the same opportunities, but that’s simply just not true. Toxic individualism attaches morality to financial worth. It creates a culture of victim blaming. It makes a weakness out of being outside the norm. It creates an environment and a culture that demonizes those who dare to live their lives outside of what is “accepted as natural and true”.
These stories we’ve been told our whole lives make empathy a weakness.
We need empathy. Without it, we pit ourselves against each other and make it harder to reach out for help, harder to connect and we end up isolating ourselves. This increases stress and anxiety, which leads to depression and can ultimately end with suicide.
It’s time we recognize that our culture is sick. It’s riddled with the malignancies of racism, of homophobia and transphobia, of misogyny. We call ourselves a Christian nation and ignore the calls of that faith to seek out and serve the poor, to love the stranger and to protect creation.
You may find it strange that I started out talking about suicide and ended up with a critique of America. Yet, I believe that when we lose hope, we lose ourselves.
And that’s all about what drives a person to suicide.